Lawmakers Probe Group's Ties to Abramoff A Senate hearing Thursday probed the relationship between the head of a pro-Republican advocacy group and the lobbyist Jack Abramoff. Italia Federici, director of the Council of Republicans for Environmental Advocacy, is accused of doing favors for Abramoff as he was steering money from his clients to her organization.
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Lawmakers Probe Group's Ties to Abramoff

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Lawmakers Probe Group's Ties to Abramoff

Lawmakers Probe Group's Ties to Abramoff

Lawmakers Probe Group's Ties to Abramoff

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A Senate hearing Thursday probed the relationship between the head of a pro-Republican advocacy group and the lobbyist Jack Abramoff. Italia Federici, director of the Council of Republicans for Environmental Advocacy, is accused of doing favors for Abramoff as he was steering money from his clients to her organization.

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

And I'm Renee Montagne.

A Senate hearing yesterday laid out an unattractive picture of the way Washington sometimes works. The head of a pro-Republican advocacy group sought to explain how she did favors for a friend, the lobbyist Jack Abramoff, while Abramoff was steering about half a million dollars from his clients to her organization. NPR's Peter Overby reports.

PETER OVERBY reporting:

The Indian Affairs Committee had just one witness, Italia Federici, the president of the tax-exempt Coalition of Republicans for Environmental Advocacy, or CREA. The only topic was how Federici helped Jack Abramoff, who used to be one of this city's most powerful Republican lobbyists, as he worked the Interior Department on behalf of his Indian tribe clients. The committee has bushels of Abramoff's vividly written e-mails. Committee Chairman John McCain quoted from one of them.

(Soundbite of Senate hearing)

Senator JOHN McCAIN (Republican, Arizona): Mr. Abramoff believed that Ms. Federici had, quote, "juice," unquote, at Interior and deemed her, quote, "critical," unquote, to his tribal lobbying practice.

OVERBY: According to the committee, that's why Abramoff had his clients donate to CREA, to cement the relationship that provided juice at Interior, the department that governs Indian affairs. Federici's main contact in Interior was her friend, Steven Griles, then the top deputy to Interior Secretary Gale Norton. Federici denied, from her opening statement to the closing gavel, that there was any connection between the $1/2 million and her usefulness to Abramoff. She did so even after McCain read from e-mails in which Abramoff asked for her help and Federici wrote back, `I will get to work on this,' or `I will call him ASAP.'

(Soundbite of Senate hearing)

Ms. NATALIA FEDERICI (President, Coalition of Republicans for Environmental Advocacy): I was responding to Jack at the time he was a friend in the way I would respond to any friend who had a need or a question.

OVERBY: Federici said that often she didn't do what Abramoff wanted, but there weren't any e-mails in which she told that to Abramoff.

(Soundbite of Senate hearing)

Ms. FEDERICI: There are plenty of e-mails to me, Senator, where Jack Abramoff, one, apologizes consistently, from day one through the last day of the communications, for bothering me with tribal matters, and there are also e-mails where he...

Sen. McCAIN: That's funny. We didn't get those e-mails, and we got all of their e-mails, Ms. Federici.

OVERBY: McCain's committee has concluded that Abramoff and consultant Michael Scanlon billed tribes for tens of millions of dollars for minimal services. Abramoff is also being investigated by the Senate Finance Committee and by a Justice Department task force. A federal grand jury in Florida has indicted him on charges arising from a business transaction there. But at yesterday's hearing, Federici said her dealings with Abramoff were strictly tokens of friendship. The committee's ranking Democrat, Byron Dorgan, was incredulous.

(Soundbite of Senate hearing)

Senator BYRON DORGAN (Democrat, North Dakota): The way you describe it in this testimony is the Indian tribes are generous, Jack is generous, everybody's generous. That is unbelievable to me. You think that there...

Ms. FEDERICI: That's unbelievable to me.

Sen. DORGAN: ...are resources in this town that provide generosity to the tune of several hundred thousands of dollars and then we take a look at what was done.

OVERBY: Federici said she assumed the tribes were simply generous supporters of the environment, even though she never spoke with them about it. Peter Overby, NPR News, the Capitol.

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